Message from Fr. Peter Andronache
As we approach the dog days of summer, vacation spots come calling, and the heat seems to make the air so thick that it makes you think twice about getting off the couch. Everything around us whispers that it is time to slow down. And in the middle of this time, in the month popularly known in Romania as Oven (cuptor) comes the commemoration of a saint who only seemed to only be slowed down by a three-and-a-half-year drought. On July 20, we celebrate the feast of the prophet Elijah.
My first encounter with St. Elijah came through my voice lessons, way back when I was still under the illusion that I was a baritone. That idea, false as it was, gave me the opportunity to sing the aria from Mendelssohn’s oratorio and to this day, whenever I think of St. Elijah, I can hear in my mind “I have been very zealous for the Lord, for the Lord God of hosts, and I, even I, only am left.” And so, whenever I think of St. Elijah, I think about zeal for the Lord.
The word zeal does not appear very often in scripture, but there are some notable instances. The priest Phineas, grandson of Aaron, saved Israel from God’s wrath because he was zealous with God’s zeal (Numbers 25), Elijah speaks of his zeal for the Lord, and we are told that our Lord was consumed by zeal for the Lord’s house (Jn. 2:17, in fulfillment of Ps. 68:9).
For Elijah, his zeal involved calling down fire from heaven to devour both offerings and people. For Jesus, zeal meant driving the money changers out of the temple with a whip. If I were to guess, I would say that it is rather unlikely that our zeal for the Lord would express itself along either of those lines. (Should you feel called to either action, please come by church and let’s sit down for a chat). So, given that the Elijah and Jesus versions of zeal are off the table, what does zeal for the Lord mean and what does it look like in our lives?
Zeal is passion, enthusiasm, energy, fervor.
We know what passion looks like in music: the performer is transformed, mentally living in a world of notes and bodily reflecting that world to us in his movements, gestures and facial expressions. We know what passion looks like in sports: a look of determination, movements that have been ingrained by thousands of hours of practice. What might passion look like for Orthodoxy? Perhaps, it is looking forward to the times for prayer and services and being there to where the prayers and the services become second nature; perhaps it is a smile that comes upon our faces as we hear “Blessed is the kingdom.”
We know what enthusiasm looks like in little children. At our house, it looks like Timmo, saying “I want to help with that” even if ‘that’ is carrying something bigger than he is. Or like Sym howling “Hep youuuu” and then running to also pick up something bigger than he is. What might enthusiasm look like for Orthodoxy? Perhaps it would mean helping by offering our talents in thanksgiving so that our church can fulfill her mission to proclaim the faith and be a place of healing and sanctification: participation in the church’s activities and learning opportunities, or volunteering for a ministry.
We know what energy looks like in sports: being able to run just a little faster, or jump just a little higher than everyone else, or being able to run or skate even when everyone else seems to have stopped. We know what energy looks like in children: thumps, thuds, yelps, and occasionally skinned knees and broken furniture. What might energy look like for Orthodoxy? Perhaps it would be taking a leadership position in a parish ministry; perhaps it would be singing with gusto for the Liturgy,
We know what fervor looks like in sports: the fans, gathering for hours before a game, encouraging each other, cheering for their teams and supporting them through good times and bad. What might fervor look like for our parish? Perhaps getting together, supporting and promoting our facilities improvement project, perhaps reaching out and introducing our friends and neighbors to the faith once-delivered to the apostles.
With all that being said, our zeal might look different; the possibilities mentioned above are by no means an exhaustive list – after all, I did not even mention the possibility of entering monastic life. What is important is that we consider what being zealous for the Lord might mean for us. Having considered it, it is then important that we do not let fear extinguish that zeal. This fear can make a lot of suggestions like, “Others would think I’m strange if I spent so much time in church” or “This would take too much time/effort” or “I would have to change in order to do that.”
The good news is that love drives out fear. So let us ask our Lord to open our minds and fill our hearts with love for Him, so that we may fearlessly ask for the zeal of Elijah.
With love in the risen Christ,